What are we going to do to get people to come back when this is all over?
This is a refrain I’ve heard from pastors in various settings ever since the reality of the pandemic’s reach began forcing a suspension of our worship gatherings. Some are afraid that people will get used to worshipping online and not see a need for physical church any more. Others are afraid that people will be afraid to come back into large(ish) groups and therefor will stay away.
The common link between the two, of course, is fear. The real question these folks are asking is, “How will the institution survive?”
It’s the wrong question to ask, and it is always the wrong question to ask.
Why? Because any institution whose membership fixates on that question freezes in place. They can’t adapt to a changing culture 1, lament that legacy communications strategies aren’t working, and are unprepared to demonstrate the peculiarities of the faith with any sort of clarity or faithfulness. That’s because surviving isn’t living. It’s just existing.
So how do we “get people to come back?”
We never go away in the first place.
We are living in a time of necessary social distancing. “Social,” however, is probably a poor choice of words. What we are practicing is physical distancing–we can still be social 2! Pastors can still reach out to folks in the congregation, using the myriad of ways available to us in the Information Age. We can stream during our normal worship time, keeping as much of the normal rhythm of worship as we are able. We can share conversations with our wider communities–with members who are being creative as they practice physical distancing, people who might have some guidance for dealing with the outbreak, or local officials to assure folks that our first responders are still on the job. We can even continue the deliberate work of being connected to one another though prayer.
If we never go away, and if we are deliberate to be visible during this crisis, people will be reminded of what it used to be like when there wasn’t a public health ban on us meeting together for worship. And, just maybe, it will help folks miss that.
Pastors, let’s not be worried about survival right now 3. Let’s heed our calling and spread life, wherever it might take root. The Kingdom call us to move.
Stay healthy. Be wise. Live with grace.